Haricombe Gallery to open new exhibit with events featuring KU scholars in association with Common Book Program

A new digital exhibit in Watson Library’s Haricombe Gallery will showcase KU scholars, centering the importance of imagination and visionary thought in cutting edge research. The exhibition, entitled “Pushing Boundaries with Science and Fiction,” is inspired by the KU Common Book Program’s 2023-2024 selection, “The Parable of the Sower,” a speculative fiction novel by science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler.  

“The Haricombe Gallery strives to connect the work of scholars and community partners in surprising and interesting ways,” said Samantha Bishop Simmons, Humanities Librarian and Haricombe Gallery Assistant Coordinator. “Science fiction is the perfect medium for making daring, imaginative connections, and we hope to showcase that spirit of possibility in this year’s exhibit.” 

Ian Crossfield from KU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy will open the exhibit with a lecture, Thursday, October 5, in Watson Library’s Three West Reading Room. Attendees can browse the exhibit during a reception beginning at 5:30 p.m., followed by a presentation at 6 p.m., which includes Crossfield’s talk. He leads the KU ExoLab, a research group dedicated to the discovery and characterization of planetary systems, including work with the James Webb Space Telescope.  

“[The James Webb telescope] is enabling us to see things that were utterly impossible to find, detect, or discover with any of the telescopes that were operating previously,” Crossfield said. “Once you can find an entirely new class of things that no one was ever able to see before, you’re able to study them and understand them and the universe in a lot more detail.” 

Crossfield has worked previously as an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory designing telescope devices and systems, including some work on the James Webb project. He is also an affiliate faculty member for KU’s J. Wayne & Elsie M. Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. His current research focuses on using telescopes to push the boundaries of discovery, not unlike some space explorers of the science fiction genre. 

“Captain Kirk goes and explores strange new worlds [in the series “Star Trek”], but he needs a giant spaceship to do it,” Crossfield said. “It turns out we can actually just do it with telescopes.”  

Crossfield joked that “Starfleet could have saved a lot of money,” but the comparison holds true.  

“In my field in particular we are indeed exploring strange new worlds,” he said.  

Crossfield’s presentation will be followed by a lecture panel Thursday, October 12 from 3:30-5 p.m., also in Watson Library’s Three West Reading Room. The panel will feature Joonmo Kang, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Welfare; A. D. Boynton II, doctoral candidate in the Department of English; and Ali Brox, Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Studies.  

The panel will be moderated by Humanities Librarian Bishop Simmons, who will facilitate discussion around the application of science fiction works and issues to real-world problems. Kang specializes in climate justice and ecosocial work and studies alternative currency in areas heavily affected by climate change; Boynton is a cultural theorist and writer who studies Afrofuturism and Black and queer representation in science fiction; and Bronx is an environmental scientist who engages students with “cli-fi” or climate science fiction.  

The Haricombe Gallery, an exhibit space on Watson Third Floor West, hosts two major collaborative exhibitions per year with a keynote speaker and reception marking the exhibit’s debut. Visitors can explore the gallery at their leisure anytime the library is open throughout the semester, or visit online.